The Best War is One You Don’t Have to Fight

At the moment it feels almost as if we are edging towards war with the EU27. Our Prime Minister is talking up the conflict as a way to boost her election campaign and we are, it seems, lapping it up. Fighting feels better than sitting back and waiting, thinking. Fighting feels proactive.

That feeling is common. It’s also dangerous. The bias towards action has to be considered carefully because it may well be more of a way to manage our inner turmoil than to achieve meaningful results. It may feel good to shout at someone who has hurt you but does that do more harm than good in the long term?

When I think about this I’m reminded of a session playing an improv game I call Chaos Chairs. The general idea is that a team of a dozen or so Sitters has to prevent one person, the Walker, sitting down by moving between chairs, covering the available chair before the Walker can sit. In this game it’s always a question of when and if to move because if you move to cover the next chair you leave your current chair open. In this particular session a moment came when the Walker was closing in on the free chair. Everyone froze, no one seemed to want to take the action to cover the chair. Then, as the Walker came closer, feeling the pressure to just do something a woman moved to cover the open chair. Sadly she vacated a chair even closer to the Walker. She felt pressure to act. Acting, even if that action made the situation worse, was preferable to the pain of restraint.

It’s not wrong to feel this way. Feelings are never wrong. They’re just part of how we understand the world. What matters is that we reflect and consider what those feelings mean, where they come from, and what we should do. Why am I looking for a fight? Is this action skilful or simply self indulgent?

Theresa May wants us to respond to her fighting words as a mindless crowd. She doesn’t want us to think. She just wants us to react, unreflectingly, and deliver her an election landslide. We might blame her for such a cynical ploy but if it succeeds we have only ourselves to blame.

The EU27 are not our enemy. They represent our most important partners in trade, security, culture, and so much more. We are a continent united by shared history and shared values. May wants to make them our enemy so that she can fight them for us, be our champion and defender. She seems unconcerned with how this might damage us.

Now is a time for measured words and skilful actions. Not a broken record of rhetoric and perverse patriotism. It might be too late for this current disaster cycle but as we angrily argue ourselves into the abyss I am reminded of and reaffirmed in my belief that the next stage of human culture must be to embrace a more mindful, more nuanced understanding of what drives us. Remember the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness.